Pen Paling in the 21st Century

Last August, while Bubby was on a Sanibel board in Facebook, came across a posting from a teacher in England asking for pictures of manatees that she could share with her students, who were going to be called the “Manatee Class” for the upcoming school year. She explained that while the community was near the coast, that none of the students had probably ever seen a picture of a manatee, let alone a real manatee in its natural habitat. Bubby replied back offering to send her pictures and other resources for the students. This chance encounter on the huge social media of Facebook has turned into a much cherished relationship that is still on-going.

We have been exchanging letters with the 20 students and teacher throughout the school year which will end for them in two weeks. While handwriting 21 letters may seem daunting, we have actually found ourselves energized to answer their many questions. Among our favorite questions the students have asked have been; what’s the biggest manatee we have ever seen, what is the name of our favorite manatee and have we ever been bitten by a shark?

We felt very honored when we read the school newsletter and came across the teacher’s Opening Day of School Class Welcome letter mentioning us:

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Miss Gare
This year our classes are named after mammals and we are named after the magnificent manatee! On our transition day we found out all about manatees and throughout the year we will be learning even more. We even have the opportunity to ‘Skype’ live with a Florida Master Naturalist, who will hopefully be able to show us manatees in their natural environment whilst teaching us all about them. Our Florida Master Naturalist is also willing to be a pen pal for the children, so later in the year we will be writing to them!

In addition to the letters, we have also sent the class numerous resource materials, as well as, craft and activity sheets. We have sent them education items and pictures provided by Ding Darling and Jensen’s Twin Marina’s, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Activity Workbook, and Save the Manatee Club provided the teacher with the “Manatees: An Educator’s Guide “and the “Manatees: A Coloring and Activity Book” for all of the students.

We have enjoyed asking the students about their studies and learning new vocabulary. We learned what “Bank Day” was and that “wicked” is something really awesome. We have also enjoyed sending them surprises, such as shells we hand painted manatees on to, bookmarks, manatee face masks and a manatee stuffed animal.

We never knew that we would be the recipient of a surprise they had for us. In March of this year, Ms. Hannah Gare’s parents, David and Mollie and longtime friends Valerie and Brian Allchorne, came to “holiday” in Sanibel. The elder Gare’s have a time share and boat they maintain in Sanibel and have been visiting the area for over 15 years. They invited us to dinner and delivered a package of letters and cards the students had prepared. Then they presented us with a canvas portrait of the class. The portrait included all 20 of the students each holding a letter spelling out the message; “Thank you Captain Bubby!”

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Hello Kent England Sanibel is calling

So far, we have exchanged letters and gifts, and we now are introducing technology into our pen pal relationship. We are going to Skype with the students and finally be able to show them real live manatees! Earlier this week we set up at Jensen’s Twin Marina and dialed Kent England. Unfortunately, we were unable to keep connected. Here are some shots we captured from the students call to us. We will be trying again this week from a different location.

The Woodchurch C.E. Primary School is located in the Southeastern corner of England, in an area that is referred to as “The Garden of England” because of its relative abundance of fruit-growing and hop gardens. The existence of the school dates back to 1665 and has a current enrollment of 201 students.Woodchurch C.E Primary School holds the principles of ‘Every Child Matters’ at the center of its curriculum planning. Not only do we support the child to ‘enjoy and achieve’, we aim to develop their ‘economic and social well-being’.

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